Today the New York Times wrote a welcome editorial affirming the findings of the NYC School-Justice Partnership Task Force which calls for a mayoral-led initiative to reduce suspensions and school-based arrests and summonses. I have had the privilege of sitting on this Task Force ably guided by Judge Judith Kaye and supported by Advocates for Children. As the Task Force noted at an event to release its report this morning, during the 2011-2012 school year, New York City schools imposed nearly 70,000 suspensions, 882 arrests and 1,600 summonses on students. The Task Force highlighted the startling racial disparities in these practices; Black students accounted for nearly 63% of arrests, but made up only 28% of the student population. In general, the vast majority of student suspensions, arrests and summonses are administered for minor misbehavior.
The Task Force is a welcome voice of recognized experts and decision-makers, including representatives of the juvenile and family court system, the Department of Education and other advocates, who have responded to the school-to-prison pipeline in New York City schools. However, it is important to note that the voices of the most experienced experts on zero tolerance discipline have been fighting and organizing to end these policies for years – that is, the youth who suffer from harmful and discriminatory discipline. The Task Force has rightly echoed the voices and experiences of NYC youth of color, but the City has still failed to facilitate the inclusion of the actual voices of youth in the discussion of how to solve this human rights crisis in our city’s schools.
Through the Dignity in Schools Campaign-New York and its youth member organizations, students themselves voice their concerns and fight for changes to school disciplinary policies. By magnifying and uniting these voices, DSC-NY has succeeded in making many substantial changes to the City’s discipline code, including adding restorative practices, eliminating suspensions for minor behaviors like using profanity or leaving school without permission, and giving principals the option to use parent conferences and other alternatives to suspensions for behaviors like fighting. Fellow Dignity in Schools Campaign members Advocates for Children, Children’s Defense Fund-NY, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., New Settlement Apartments Parent Action Committee and Urban Youth Collaborative also served on the Task Force.
Building on these changes, the Task Force has offered a multi-pronged recommendation for keeping New York City’s students in school and out of court. First and foremost, the Task Force recommends that the City establish a mayoral-led initiative to identify shared goals and foster collaboration among key City agencies, courts, parents, youth, law enforcement, prosecutors, teachers, and advocates. The Task Force also recommends that the City:
- Adopt a graduated response protocol for schools to resolve student misbehavior without resorting to suspensions or arrests;
- Focus on building capacity and providing funding for schools to implement positive discipline strategies as alternatives to suspensions and arrests;
- Refocus the role of school safety agents away from responding to minor misbehavior towards only those incidents requiring law enforcement response; and
- Improve educational planning for court-involved youth, as well as the educational reengagement of youth who have been placed and/or sentenced.
The recommendations of the New York City School-Justice Partnership Task Force are a strong step towards the realization of the right to dignity in New York City schools. In taking next steps forward, it is crucial that the Task Force and the new mayor elected this fall enable those who are at the center of the crisis—the City’s youth—to take a leadership role in identifying and implementing the solutions.
Read the NY Times Editorial
Read the article on Gotham Schools
Read the Task Force Report